Management & Operations

5 Tips on Buying the Ideal Bus Washing System

Posted on June 1, 2002 by Leslie Davis, managing editor

Washing one bus may mean revving up the hose and grabbing a bucket, but cleaning a fleet of 150 entails an entirely different process. Bus washing systems, in the form of a rollover or drive-through, are essential to keeping any fleet clean. Here are some tips from manufacturers of such systems on what to consider when purchasing your ideal bus washing machine. 1. Know your budget. "What so few transit agencies seem to get right is the budget process. People don't think about a budget that fits their projects," says Jeff Ross, president of Ross and White Co. in Cary, Ill. Ross' company has been in the business of customizing bus wash systems for 70 years. To remedy budget issues, Ross recommends hiring a good consultant, particularly one that specializes in bus wash systems. "It's more complicated than transit agencies think," Ross says. "There's structural and chemical engineering to consider." Transit agencies should also know at the outset what type of machine they are looking for. Ross and White customizes 30 to 40 systems annually for transit agencies of all sizes and is seeing increased demand for machines that wash both paratransit and standard buses. Rollover systems (which cost between $65,000 and $70,000) are more common for smaller properties (fewer than 50 buses) while drive-through machines (more than $100,000) are more efficient for larger bus fleets. Many large-fleet agencies will use rollover machines for detailing. Most changes in the bus wash industry are happening in the field of technology, Ross says. His company is working on touch-screen technology as well as bio-remediation, which acts to remove chemicals from the water. 2. Look at the operational, rather than capital, costs. As with any purchase, the first tendency of the buyer is to look at how much the system will cost up-front. Fred Geiger, director of operations for Westmatic Inc. in Delaware, Ont., suggests taking a look at the operational costs instead. "Usually the water bill is paid by a different department than those doing the buying, so they don't think about it," he says. But, taking into consideration water recycling, electricity, shampoo and maintenance, the long-term costs do add up. Westmatic, which only recently entered the North American market, has spent most of its 30 years providing bus wash systems in eight different countries. Geiger says European agencies do take more time to weigh the operational costs of the system before making a purchase. The company's latest product uses smart technology to provide consistent bus washes. Typically, the driver dictates the quality of the wash by how fast he goes through the machine. Driving too fast may result in broken mirrors, Geiger says. The smart technology lets the machine do the work, with the brushes moving into the vehicle rather than the other way around. "Different drivers mean different washes. The machine should dictate the quality of the wash," he says. Water recycling is also a top priority at Westmatic. "Quality water recycling goes well beyond merely the recirculation of water through some type of filter system," Geiger says. Depending on the size and type of the buses going through the wash system, different components may be needed. The process of recycling can reuse more than 85% of the consumed water. For Westmatic, the recycled water is reused in all stages of the washing process, with fresh water only being used in the final rinse. "Advanced technology is cost-effective, and should be considered as best practices rather than installing for the purposes of merely appeasing the public," Geiger says. 3. Ask a lot of questions up-front. Determining what components you need up-front will save a lot of time and money in the long run. "Keep things simple on the front end," says Kevin Sudano, transit division representative for N/S Corp. in Inglewood, Calif. "Do not complicate things with ultra-confusing equipment." Part of what N/S does is help its customers decide what components are needed by showing them existing systems and finding out about their fleet. "We've internalized efforts so that we are good at engineering special needs," Sudano says. "It's important to address needs from a complete point of view." That includes washing the bus both inside and out and accounting for such environmental factors as snow or hard water. N/S manufactures a full line of washing systems, all of which "make life a lot easier for fleet owners," Sudano says. "By automating the process, they save a lot of time, money and manpower, and a clean fleet helps stimulate ridership." 4. Talk to a lot of different people. That means talking to different manufacturers and to properties that have used the system you are interested in purchasing. "My customers are my best salespeople," says Martin Van Tol, president of ACC International in Beamsville, Ont. "They tell you exactly what they think. They have nothing to hide." Van Tol recommends obtaining a list of customers from the manufacturer and visiting several of the properties listed. That will give you the most honest impression of the product, without any sales pitch attached. He also says it is a good idea to talk to the different suppliers of bus washing systems to get a feel for what they can offer you. Manufacturers can give you demos of their products, as well as visit your facility to determine what model best suits your needs. ACC's bus washing systems are primarily for small and medium-size properties. Its ACC Eco Power Brush system is manually guided around the vehicle, moved by the rotation of the brush. Because it is manual, it's not a system that is practical for the daily cleaning of large fleets, but can be used as a backup system or at smaller maintenance locations that are part of a bigger system. "Big fleets are better with the drive-through," Van Tol says. ACC began in Europe more than 20 years ago and has between 4,000 and 5,000 of its systems in use globally. 5. Look at the overall picture. It's fine to realize you need an efficient way to clean your fleet, but are you just looking at the equipment itself or the long-term benefits of the bus wash system? When purchasing a system, take into consideration service contracts, warranties and long-term technical support. "The equipment will last longer and perform just like new in 20 years," says Ed Rieskamp, president of Rieskamp Equipment Company Inc. in Indianapolis. "The need for replacement also diminishes quite a bit." Rieskamp's company offers a lifetime warranty and will maintain anything that breaks, as well as provide free bi-monthly service checks. The company's drive-through system is a combination of touch and touchless technology, meaning less wear and tear on paint and windows. "It gets into areas a brush can't get into," Rieskamp says. "It's the best of both worlds." That has been the company's main bus product during its 35 years in the business. The system is suitable for vehicles of varying sizes, including vans and small or large buses.

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